Thursday, 17 November 2016

Euro Trip 2016. Benicarlo.


Our 3000-mile round trip involved traveling the length of both England and France and then a day’s drive across Spain. It was decided to start our journey travel via Scotch Corner and down the A1 and not tackle the length of the M6. This turned out to be a good decision as the 'Great North Road' turned out to be busy but very free flowing. With a driving time of under 7 hours the 335-mile trip went very smoothly with only two stops the first to sample Greggs hot sausage rolls and a cup of coffee and the second for a spot of lunch in the Motorhome.


Children's play areas keep even big children happy. 

Our first overnight stop was just north of Letchworth at a Camping and Caravan Club Listed Site near to Henlow Village called Henlow Bridge Lakes and Riverside. Open all year this friendly family run campsite has 33 acre's and caters for caravans, motorhomes and tents and has some luxurious chalets for hire. The many shower/toilet blocks are spotless. Who ever designed this extraordinarily well laid out landscaped site must have a great love of children, as there are good quality play areas in most of the fields. Certainly a site I would recommend with a bonus of a rail link to London’s Kings Cross should you decide to stay for a couple of days.
 
Dartford Bridge on the M25.
The M25 motorway must be the most stressful piece of roadway that you could wish “not” to have to drive on, a complete nightmare, too much traffic, with commercial traffic competing with private cars all seemly having insufficient time to compete their journeys! Leaving Henlow you find your way back to the A1 and then onto the nightmare orbital route around London passing across the Dartford Bridge having pre-paid the Dart Charge and then onto the M20 which will take you to within a few miles of the British seaside resort of Folkestone which itself is a short distance from various cross channel routes. 

Just a short walk from the club site....

....which sits just above the English Channel. 

Folkestone Camping and Camping Club site is situated overlooking the English Channel and boasts the normal site facilities that club members would expect. A 45-minute walk along the coast will take you to Folkestone Harbour and then up into the centre of town where you will find a good selection of shops including some very arty type emporiums in the Old High Street. One recommendation would be a visit Papas Fish Restaurant in Sandgate Road that will cook you up a very fine fish supper at a reasonable cost. 
 
The Shuttle.

Aires or picnic areas 
Using Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Terminal to cross the English Channel is a surprisingly smooth, stress free way to travel. If you arrive early, like we did there's a strong possibility that you can catch an earlier booking at no extra charge. Just drive on, sit in your vehicle and 35 minutes later you drive off and join the French motorway network. Although the French road operators charge you to use them, via tolls, the motorways are quiet with various Aires or picnic areas where you can stop and stretch your legs, make a cup of coffee and have your pre made snack. The facilities on these do vary but all have ample parking areas, outside seating areas and some toilet facilities.



Our third overnight stop was at a municipal site whose facilities I’m afraid left a great deal to be desired and was totally unusable. It was situated in the suburbs of the busy wee French town of Chalons en Champagne and would have been easily found other than the local roads department had shut off the road that our nice sat-nav lady was trying to send us down!  Without the help of a local French gentleman who lead the way in his car we could still be driving around the back streets of Chalons!



French motorway petrol stations are completely automated, neither a human attendant to be seen nor a cash desk. The first time we had to re-fuel was from a pump without any English language instructions, again the help of a local was required but thankfully most do have instructions in English. We discovered shortly after, thanks to Santander's alerts e-mail service, that €130 was charged to our credit card and not €50 it stated on our receipt! We phoned the Bank and they told us that we could dispute this once the merchant had actually claimed the money. It had been a grand day until then! In comparison the rest of the day was completed without further problems. The second overnight stay was at a very descent site situated in Dardilly in a suburb of Lyon and just off the motorway.
 
Lyon Camp Site
It was now Thursday and we left Camping Indigo International de Lyon, filling up with diesel at the automated pumps in the Esso garage outside the site which we soon discovered culminated in the same problem as the day before i.e. being informed by Santander that we had been charged for twice the value of fuel we put in the tank!  Again the bank promised to sort this out, but only when our monthly statement confirmed it. So did that mean we will have to pay the full amount before we have any chance of getting a refund? We now faced an apprehensive wait until our bank statement. Leaving Lyon around 9am meant we were to face our first traffic hold up’s as local working people turned off at various motorway intersections. But once you were clear of Lyon and its suburbs normal service resumed. Two things were noticeable on this stage of our journey the first was that the landscape changed from flat and boring to something far more picturesque and more importantly the weather was getting warmer.
 
Camping de la Vallee....

....with its heated swimming pool....


and the  Pyrenees in the distance.

Our final stopover before we crossed the border into Spain was at a campsite at the foot of the Pyrenees situated through the lovely village of St Jean-Pla-de-Corts near Ceret were Pablo Picasso once resided and is famous for its annual festival of corridas (Spanish Bull Fighting). Camping de la Vallee not only boasted a very excellent view of the Pyrenees but a heated swimming pool that was a godsend after a days driving. On entering the camps scrupulously clean toilet block I thought that someone had not only stolen the toilet roll but the toilet roll holder and the toilet seat, but I was reliably informed that this is quite normal for French toilets not to provide these items! Stingy buggers. So along with you’re anti bacterial wipes and toilet tissue wipes I would suggest adding toilet paper to your wash bag, oh yes and don't forget a toilet seat!

At the start of our last outward travel day we found a manned petrol station that meant we did not get any scary alerts from Santander! Crossing into Spain we found their motorway system quite busy on the ring roads around big cities especially Barcelona but once you were clear of these the roads were very quiet and a pleasure to drive on. Finally on Saturday 8th October, after six days travelling and 1520 miles we reached out final destination for four weeks.


To summarise the out-bound road trip l was pleased I followed the advice of the Camping and Caravan Club to keep each days driving distance to between 250 and 300 miles which made the journey some what stress free and allowed us to get to our daily destination by 16:00 hours. All bar one campsite are recommended as stopovers. My only regret was that we did not plan for longer stay at least two of the sites. But when you plan a trip like this you have no idea what each site is like.   Both the French and Spanish motorway system's are fine but I would suggest you follow place names and no just road numbers as in my opinion it makes it easier to follow a planned route. The toll system is quite easy to navigate but beware of height barriers. Credit cards can be used without a problem but as I have said before there was a problem using my credit card on automated fuel pumps in France although Santander have since informed me that the correct amounts have appeared on my statement.



Large fully serviced pitches
Affiliated to both the ACSI and The Camping and Caravanning Club Camping Algeria del Mar is a British and Spanish family run campsite, open all year and just 40 minutes walk or a short bike ride from the centre of Benicarlo. The site has friendly and helpful staff, adequate facilities but strangely no urinal in the Gents toilet. The small swimming pool located next to the bar/restaurant would freeze a polar bear. The site has over 140 gravel touring pitches, our very spacious 130m2 pitch had a 10amp electricity supply (at minimal extra cost over 6amp), drainage and water including a cold water sink. All the divisional hedges were 'cut' while we were in residence and made the pitches seem even larger.



Fishing boats returning after a days catch. 

Benicarlo is a fishing port and tourist centre that is open all year, not closing down in the later part of the season like many other Spanish holiday destinations. We found the town an attractive, well-provisioned centre with a couple of large well-priced supermarkets namely Lidi and Mercerdona. But visitors must remember that all shops except the supermarkets, and the Asian Bazaars, which are always worth a visit, are closed at 13:30 each day and do not open again until around 17:00. All the shops are closed on a Sunday except, you guested it, the Asian Bazaars. 
Palaca del Mercat.
Benicola Beach 

It has an open-air clothes market on a Wednesday and a large permanent indoor food market at the Palaca del Mercat which houses a wide variety of fish, fruit and vegetable's along side a very nice bread and cake stall. A large family friendly horseshoe shaped sandy beech is in the town itself and has some safe bathing for young children. 

Sports Centre and Swimming Poo
Also on the perimeter of the town is a large municipal sports complex along side some football pitches which houses a well equipped gymnasium and a large, very clean, swimming pool whose concessional charge for a swim is under 4 euro's. One of the rules that differ from my homeland pool is that both sexes have to wear swimming hats, quite a good idea.

My biggest criticism of the area between the camp and the town is the amount of rubbish strewn about the countryside and the fly tipping that goes on. It is obvious that this is a problem and one that spoil’s the outskirts of Benicarlo.


Peniscola....and its lovely beach. 
The City in the Sea.

Bike Hire - handy for shopping....
....and pleasure
Four miles south of the camp site is Peniscola known as "The City in the Sea" and four miles to the north is Vinaros making each one an eight miles round trip so a decision was made to hire a couple of bicycles. The nearest open hire shop was Azahar bicicletas based in Peniscola next to Hotel Bodegon on the beach promenade.  The hire of two bikes for a fortnight will set you back €120, but take cash, as credit cards are not accepted. As well as using our bikes for pleasure they were also very handy for transporting the provisions. Bicycle paths are in abundance and far better than what you find in Scotland, certainly an improvement with this amenity back home is a great way to encourage people to ride bikes improving the environment and of course individual health.


The local bus service has a standard flat fare rate of €1.50, runs every thirty minutes and serves all the three coastal towns but can get very busy, and noisy, on market days.

Benicarlo's market is on a Wednesday; mainly clothes but there were some fruit and vegetables stalls around the indoor Mercat. The fishing town and tourist destination of Vinaros has a market on a Thursday, much larger than Benicarlo but again its mainly clothes. 

The Promenade....
....and the beach.


Vinaros has a lovely indoor market.

The Church.

The Bull Ring.

When you visit Vinaros you will find it has its own bullring, a splendid promenade and some lovely coffee shops and restaurants along its sea front. On the outskirts of the town bordering the N340 is a shopping estate that has a variety of large stores including a Carrefour Supermarket, a Decathlon Sports Centre, an Aldi and a discount fuel station.






The best market to visit is Peniscola, which has a greater variety of stalls and is open on a Monday from early until 13:30. 


While in town the Peniscola Castle with its rugged rocks and imposing castle walls is well worth a visit, and even if you’re not into ancient monuments and history the views over the town and the surrounding coastline are worth the entrance fee.










and links with Scotland.

In 1233 Peniscola which had been under the control of the Arabs since 718 was handed over to King James 1of Aragon and then in 1294 during the reign of James 2 it was passed over to the Order of the Temple and it was between 1294 and 1307 that the Knights Templars built what was said to be their last great fortress. In the fourteenth century it was garrisoned by the Christian military order the Knights of Montesa. In 1411 Papa Luna, Pope Benedict X111 made the castle his pontifical seat, but was considered by the Catholic Church to be an antipope. He remained there until his death on the 23rd May 1423. Interestingly he has ties to Scotland and the St Andrews University.




A day out with new friends was very welcome and extremely enjoyable. Bob and Maureen have been coming to the area for many years and we put their local knowledge to good use. First stop was for coffee at the Casa Artemio which was close by Camping Torre la Sal 1 and 2, frequented by the Dutch and German’s and looked extremely busy as, we discovered, are most campsites in this part of Spain at this time of year. From there to a restaurant, fondly known as the ‘shed’ by our guides, which was located in the suburbs of Oropesa and had a set five course menu for €13.50 and is highly recommended for both its value and the quality of its cuisine. 
The holiday resort of Marina d'or.












After lunch we were taken to the purpose made holiday resort of Marina d'Or with its massive hotels and landscaped public garden that run adjacent to the shoreline.

The village of Sant Mateu.


The Public Baths.

The Church of Sant Mateu.


A second day out with Bob and Maureen started after we dropped the bikes back to Peniscola and then drove up to the picturesque wee village of Sant Mateu. After coffee in the town square we had a walk round the village taking in the washhouse and the beautiful Archpriestal Church of Sant Mateu. Like most of these ancient religious buildings different parts of it were built and/or renovated during different historical periods with the oldest part built in the 13th century. The building was declared a national monument in 1931 and remains one of the most important gothic constructions in the Valencia region of Spain. 











After leaving the village we drove up the winding road to the Hermitage of the Lady of the Angels built between the 16th and 18th century. The Chapel at the Hermitage contains some beautiful artistic works including a wonderful tiled floor and paintings on what appears to be metal hanging on its walls. Working up an appetite from our exploration's we came back down to the coastal town of Alcala for a meal at Isabella's which included 4 courses and coffee for €11. My starter was a seafood platter that was delicious, main course was a T-bone steak and chips and vienetta for sweet - great value for money. Another great day out courtesy of our new found friends.



Halloween at Camping Alegria del Mar.

We found most people on the touring pitches very friendly and it helped build up a community of like minded people who were happy to exchange e-mail addresses before we left. To their great credit the family run campsite put on a Halloween party for the camps residents providing a free buffet and a complimentary drink along with music and entertainment. I suppose that most folk travel down to Spain for the autumn and winter months because of the weather. Perhaps we have been unlucky but the weather was not as good as expected with some heavy rain at times that flooded areas of the site.  Although not always wall-to-wall sunshine it was warm with temperatures between 21 and 24 degrees, which, you must agree is so much warmer than Scotland at this time of year.


A spooky wee site! 
After four very enjoyable weeks we set off for home on Saturday 4th November. Like our trip coming down we had basically worked out how far to travel each day and where to stop each night. The first stop on our return journey was just across the French border at a site called Camping International du Roussillon near to the town of Salses-le-Chateau. It had a real end of season feel; in fact I'm sure I've seen the site in a French horror movie! Maybe when all the camps facilities are open i.e. Restaurant, swimming pool etc. it would have a better ambiance. The sanitary block is clean and quite large with showers and toilets in separate parts of the building but again no toilet seats, no toilet rolls, a cold water sink with no soap and no hand drying facilities- strange people the French! Our biggest problem was trying to locate a water supply to replenish our water tank but we got there in the end!

A return visit.
Next stop over was back at Lyon at Camping Indigo International. Getting very cold after the warmth of Spain and encountered a very heavy rainstorm on the drive, talk about reminding you of home! Good sanitary facilities on this site as well as water, electric and grey waste disposal on our pitch. Reception staffs are very pleasant and free Internet accompanied some good coffee in the bar. Just a warning we are getting the same problem as before buying fuel at the automated petrol stations in France with the alerts from Santander for spending more then a £100 each time I filled up with diesel when it cost no where near that, something that did not happen when filling up in Spain.










Two degrees is cold by any ones standard and that was the temperature when we left Lyon. It did not get much warmer when we reached our next stopover just outside the village of Geraudot in north central France. Les Rives du lac was a very tidy campsite with good clean sanitary facilities and decent size pitches with electric. It is located in the Orient Forest Regional Natural Park that contains protected areas of woodland and three man made lakes. Also included in the park are 42 km of cycle track and 150 km of signposted walks. This natural park was designated in 1970 and covers a total area of 170,000 acres. The village of Geraudot is anything but tourist based, it’s a quiet, typically French village and thankfully there remained enough daylight to have a good look around. Lots of rather run down property are adjacent to some rather lovely buildings that have been carefully renovated in the French style. One bar/restaurant and a church are the only other buildings except for what looks like an official council office. Again would like to have had the time to explore the region in more depth.

After filling with diesel at the Carrefour Express in Lusigny Sur Barse and finding a very well stocked E.Lectric supermarket in the middle of a field we set off for our final destination in France before proceeding to the Eurotunnel.




Approaching the Hotel Bal can be a little tricky for larger outfits.

Hotel Bal Caravan Site is situated at the rear of a hotel a half a mile from the French medieval town of Tourneham-sur-la-Hem. At this time of year only part of the site is open and there is only one toilet/shower facility, that would be normally be the disabled toilet and shower, which was very clean and warm. Again we had time to explore the town. 





After a coffee at the Cafe De La Mairie in the town square we had a look at the local church of Saint Medard. Dating from fifteenth century it had a beautiful array of chrysanthemums decorating its graves. Over the last couple of days it was certainly a nice change to be able to see something of France other than their motorway system.

Church of Saint Medard.


Our last morning in Europe involved a short trip to the Shuttle and a 35-minute journey under the English Channel to arrive in the UK. This part of our trip was, as I've said previously, smooth and stress free. There followed a visit to Canterbury to see an old friend then on to tackle the unbelievable amount of traffic at the Dartford Tunnel. 



Busy for time of year.
Our last stop was for three nights at a Camping and Caravan Club site at Theobald’s Park, Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire a beautiful place to stay within striking distance of the notorious M25, London’s orbital ring road - reckoned to be the busiest stretch of roadway in Britain. The facilities were, clean and warm and surprisingly for the time of year, very busy. The site staffs were very friendly and helpful. Staying close to were we used to live before moving to Scotland, unbelievably now almost a quarter century ago, allowed us to renew acquaintances with old friends and family. 

At 7am on the 12th November we joined the M25 at junction 25, travelled to South Mimms turning off for the A1/Great North Road. Although the weather wasn’t brilliant we made good time and arrived back home just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  To say that we enjoyed our first adventure abroad in our motorhome would certainly be an understatement and it was decided, with out too much discussion, to plan another trip abroad next year – God willing.